I think we’ve all heard the rumor of New Yorkers being rude, but I had never gotten the chance to experience it first-hand. (Disclaimer: I know not everybody from NY is rude, but almost everyone on this particular day seemed to be extra cranky.) I’ve been to the city plenty of times before but never needed to pester one of the locals with assistance getting around. I was always that annoying tourist using the maps app on their phone to navigate through the concrete jungle.
Back home, everybody fantasizes about living in the city. I will admit that I used to be one of them. I used to dream of living in a penthouse on the 50-somethingth floor with a breathtaking view of the city lights. I dreamed about being the editor-in-chief of a fashion magazine and picking up my morning coffee before walking a few blocks to work—in Manolo’s, nonetheless.
But alas, these are just dreams. It didn’t even take me a full day to realize that I would not survive living in that massive city. I don’t even like coffee. An introvert accustomed to the slow pace of the west coast, I would get eaten alive in New York. New York doesn’t wait for anybody, and I learned that the hard way.
I stood around looking for the right person to ask for directions. I don’t even know what exactly defined the right person. I guess I was just looking for someone in the jumbled mess Port Authority is that looked like they knew what they were doing.
The man in front of me stepped aside and I took his place up at the window. A middle-aged African-American woman stepped away from her seat in front of the computer. Naturally, I waited for her to come back. I had heard yelling via the speaker in front of me but didn’t realize this woman was yelling at me.
“WHERE ARE YOU GO-ING,“ the woman shouted for the third time. It took me a few seconds to process that she was in fact yelling at me, and that the couple behind me was laughing at the whole encounter. “You can’t hear me but I have a speaker so I can hear you! WHERE ARE YOU GO-ING?”
“…Um, where do I take the shuttle that gets me to JFK?”
I stuttered over words I had practiced reciting on the way there. By this point, I had completely given up on taking the subway from Times Square to JFK. Eighteen miles back home seemed like nothing, but in New York, eighteen miles means a totally different thing.
“On 42nd street—exit there and take a left.” She hadn’t even finished giving me directions before she was already ushering the giggly couple behind me towards her. I grabbed my bright blue carry-on and rolled out of the station. I tried heading towards 42nd as the woman had suggested, but all I could think about was her tone with me.
“I fucking hate New York,” I texted my best friend. I didn’t know then that this would only be the beginning of my troubles in New York. I looked for the next stranger to ask for directions.
I realized then that finding the shuttle to JFK would be a lot harder than I had originally intended. Maybe I should reconsider taking the subway to the airport. Though still scared, I confirmed with another rude woman behind another scratchy speaker, and headed down the stairs towards the E train.
I stood in line with people of all different colors, a confirmation of how diverse the city was. Though I was almost certain I was in the right place, I needed to check with someone else. My over-worrying usually never pays off, but I was not going to risk ending up in the wrong place and missing my flight, which I already had limited time to get to.
“Excuse me,” I said, far too timidly, “If I want to get to JFK, I have to take the E train, right?”
A series of “yeahs” and “mhms” followed my question. I felt like I could finally sigh a breath of relief.
“You going to JFK?” a small voice asked. It was the girl in front of me who I had stared at playing with her nails. Long, coffin-shaped acrylics. All white except for the nail on her ring-finger, which was a glittery gold.
“Yes, I have a flight to catch at 7:00 PM.”
“Are you scared?”
I was surprised that even a young girl could see the fear in my face. I really need to do a better job of hiding that, I thought.
“Yeah, it’s my first time taking the subway by myself. I’ve been to the city before but I’ve always traveled with friends.”
“Oh don’t be scared! It’s my first time traveling by myself too. I’m getting off at Jamaica Center, the last stop. Yours is the second to last stop so I can tell you when to get off.”
“Thanks. I’m not from around here, I’m not used to this. I’m from Arizona.” I knew I had shared too much then, but I couldn’t help it. It was the nerves talking.
“Oh my aunt lived out there! She used to have a lot of anxiety attacks because of the heat and stuff.” I shared with her Arizona’s frequent 120 degree temperatures in the summer, and her mouth opened as far as it would go. I told her I also wasn’t a fan of the weather, which is why I ended up in New England for college. She hadn’t heard of Smith College before, but still thought it was “very cool.”
I wasn’t surprised that the nicest person I had encountered in New York had been this young girl. The genuine kindness this girl showed me is the exact reason I want to work with children. She was eleven; a fifth grader. Just weeks prior I had decided I wanted to teach fifth graders, and this only confirmed my decision.
We waited for the E train in silence for a few minutes. I kept myself busy waiting for the train by deciphering the conversation in French going on behind me between a mother and daughter. We continued waiting, and waiting, asking around if others knew if the train was running. It was running—but definitely running late.
“I’m gonna go upstairs and check when it’s coming—you stay here.” I was glad the girl volunteered to ask about the train, as I couldn’t stand to get yelled at by another adult today. I was hoping her little-girl-charm would force the subway attendants to be nicer to her. Even if they didn’t, she was from New York and probably used to it by now.
While she was gone, the A train came and unloaded passengers. A larger-African American woman with an entourage was yelling at a small Asian man as they all stepped off from the train. As she shouted “no, YOU shut up,” to the small man, I tried my best to hide a laugh. I stared at the woman’s copious facial piercings and rectangular, brown tinted sunglasses that reminded me of the early 2000’s hip-hop era. I texted my best friend of the scene I had just witnessed, all the while thinking of how the young girl had missed all the fun.
A few moments passed and I saw her walking back down the steps to join me.
“It’s running, but they just wanted to make sure everyone on board was okay. Apparently, the rumors were true and a woman did have a baby on the train. That’s unsanitary!”
Of course, with my luck, the train was running late because a woman had given birth on it just moments prior. I knew I couldn’t complain about my luck though—at least I hadn’t been the unlucky woman who gave birth on a dirty subway train in New York. As I thought of the poor woman with more unfortunate luck than me, a shattering sound came from the tunnel and the E train appeared. Both the girl and I were ecstatic—me probably more than her. Once we were crowded inside the subway, I finally asked the girl what her name was.
“Aresma,” she said as she smiled. I told her my name was Daisy, holding off on saying like the flower. She told me she liked my name too. As we stood there, grabbing onto the same handrail, I asked her what she was doing in Manhattan all alone. Aresma said she had been in the area to attend a friend’s birthday party, but now she was headed home. I thought of all the times my mother had said no to me visiting a friend just a mile down the road and I was amazed Aresma’s parents allowed her to be so deep into the city without company or a cell phone.
I looked around the subway, waiting for my stop. A young couple stared at each other and smiled. A father was trying to calm-down his toddler who was amid a tantrum. Two young-women gossiped in Spanish behind me.
Key-gardens—it was time for me to get off. Aresma repeated once more that I had to go upstairs and search for the Q10 bus once I got off this stop. Funny how I had known her all of an hour and she already knew my desperate need for confirmation to ease my anxiety. I waved good-bye and thanked her once more, and headed up the steps toward ground-level.
I was greeted by a cold gust of wind that burned my face. I followed the crowd in front of me, hoping someone with luggage was also in search of the Q10 to JFK. I asked the girl behind me if I was in the right place and of course, I wasn’t. She pointed me in the direction of where she thought the bus stop for the Q10 was.
I walked down the street, my carry-on rolling obnoxiously behind me. It turns out that the girl was wrong and Q10 was not further down this street, but on the other side of the street. Or at least I thought. I had to ask four people before I finally received correct directions.
I crossed a busy-intersection, the perfect opportunity for the universe to embarrass me. The piercing wind managed to pull my scarf off from around my neck, dropping it in the middle of the street in front of me. I managed to run it over with the wheels of my luggage before I realized what had happened. I bent down to grab it, totally embarrassed by the free shit-show I had provided for the rows of cars behind me. I walked to the bus stop for Q10, trying to hide my embarrassment for the second time that day. I stood in line with a handful of other people. I read the back of my one-time metro card to keep me busy.
No subway-bus transfers, it read.
Great. I had finally made it to the correct bus stop and now I’d have to go back and buy another metro card to actually board the bus?
I remained in line, waiting for a miracle. God seemed to take pity on me after all I had been through that day. My risky move of staying in line paid off.
“Don’t worry about it,” the bus driver assured me as I tried to explain my situation to him. I’m not even religious but I just kept thinking God bless this man.
I sat in the bus finally having the time and peace of mind to check my phone. It was almost 5 o’clock. I had gotten to Port Authority at 2:30 as scheduled. I thought of how ridiculous it was that it had taken me almost two-and-a-half hours to travel eighteen miles across the city. I was grateful, however, that I had traveled so long and for only three dollars. More times than I’d care to admit I contemplated getting off the subway or the bus and taking an Uber to JFK, but the price of $50 convinced me otherwise.
I was grateful that my trip to New York had saved me a few hundred dollars on my flight, but I also thought of all the trouble it had cost me. Is it worth saving money if I end up more stressed and overwhelmed in the end? My mind said no, but my checking account said yes. I stared out the window of the bus, waiting for us to reach Terminal 5. I knew that arriving at the airport would mean a new batch of things to stress over. As famous as JFK was, it was new territory to me.